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Pastor's Letter 20200112 - 12 January 2020 - The Servant of Yahweh

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A Message from Father Michael

Feast of the Baptism of Our Blessed Lord, Jesus


Today’s Theme:   “The Servant of Yahweh”

Identifying with Sinners

When leprosy broke out among the people of the Hawaiian Islands in the middle of the 19th century, authorities responded by establishing a leper colony on the remote island of Molokai. The victims were snatched by force from their families and sent to this island, where they were expected to perish.  Moved by their terrible plight, a young Belgian priest, Fr. Damien de Veuster, asked King Kamehameha V to be allowed to minister to them. Receiving permission, he went to Molokai, at first, trying to minister from a safe distance.  Immediately he realized the effective way to do gain their trust was to live among the people, and become immersed in their culture.  Eventually, after 11 years of work, he discovered he had contracted leprosy, too.* 

The reaction of the people on Molokai was immediate and wholehearted.  They embraced Fr. de Veuster, and took him to their hearts, as “one of them.” There was no need—no point—to keep his distance from them any longer.  The afflicted had someone to whom they could talk about their disease, their brokenness, their rejection and their shame. 

 Jesus’ baptism was a source of embarrassment for the early Christians.  Even John the Baptist found it incongruous and, as we saw in today’s Gospel, tried to prevent it (Matthew 3:13-17.)  As John’s baptism was a call to repentance, it was for sinners, to promote consciousness of their sinfulness.  He and all the early Christians were certain Jesus was no sinner! He did not stand in need of any repentance.   The relevance of John’s baptism for Jesus was that of “symbolism.”  He wanted to show solidarity with the people who had come for help.  For this reason, it was important that He be baptized–publicly. When He stepped into the water of the Jordan, he was effectively saying to them: “I am on your side!”  

 On the day of His baptism, Jesus "joined the ranks" of sinners.  The Father showed His approval of what He was doing, setting His seal upon Him, sending the Holy Spirit in the form of a descending dove, and anointing Him with compassion for His mission.  From that point in His public mission, Jesus was never apart from sinners.  He sought them out; went among them; befriended them.  He placed himself among the people, so much so, that the authorities identified Him as a sinner, too.  This eventually led to His fate, dying as a condemned criminal.  Jesus took our sinful condition upon Himself, placing Himself beside us as an older brother.  He revealed to us that we are God’s precious children.  In this way He showed His love for us—and likewise, showed us what we have to do if we want to help those who are downcast. 

The Call to Service

Nelson Mandela will go down as one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century.    A member of he Xhosa people, Mandela grew up in the Transkei.  Instrumental in ending apartheid, he brought about a multicultural society in South Africa.  In his autobiography, he tells that all the currents of his life were taking him away from the Transkei.  Yet, he had no epiphany, singular revelation, nor moment of truth.  He says:  “A steady accumulation of insights helped me see that my duty was to the people as a whole, not just to a particular section of it.  The memory of a thousand indignities produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people. There was no particular day on which I said, ‘Henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people.’ Instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise.  (A Long Walk to Freedom (1994---Little, Brown and Co.,)

 Jesus was 30 years old when He began His public ministry.  How He came to that decision, and why He waited until then to begin the real work of His life is, simply, that prior to that, He wasn’t ready….  Jesus was a teacher, not of a subject such as history, which can be learned from books,  but of religion, or better, spirituality.  Spirituality has to be lived before it can be effectively taught.  This is why time is important.  Before the age of 30, most people have little experience from which they can draw.  

 Jesus’ life in Nazareth was uneventful, (as far as we can tell—Scripture tells us virtually nothing of His life from age 12, to 30 years of age.)  We are only told that  “He grew in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and Man” (Luke 2:52,) quietly, in the shadows of Nazareth, but those years were crucial for Him.  Quietly, He heard a call away from Nazareth, to the service of His brothers and sisters in the wider community. The day He was baptized by John He didn’t suddenly become a different person, but He had reached a crossroads. On that day He left behind His comparatively quiet life and began to reap the harvest from what had been growing within Him.  His baptism was a very special moment in His life—a moment when He decided to embark upon His public mission.  No doubt He came to that moment after much meditative prayer and reflection, and it surely wouldn’t have been easy for Him.  His “human self” would have experienced some uncertainty and anxiety.  He needed affirmation, which came when He heard those wonderful words:  “This is My beloved Son; with Whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17.)  These words set a divine seal of approval on His mission, which was to bring sinners back to God.  Our Heavenly Father’s words would have put the “wind in His sails,” so to speak.  Not only did He receive approval from on high for his mission, but He also received power with which to accomplish it.  This was signified by the simultaneous descent of the Holy Spirit as a dove above His head (Matthew 3:16.)  The Holy Spirit was to remain with Him throughout His entire ministry. .  

 There is a great lesson for us in all this.  We must not “write off” any part of our lives as useless, nor any experience as a waste.  Everything gives us an opportunity to grow.  Life calls for much patient waiting.  But we must not wait for something “great” to happen.  We must fully live in the moment, as therein are contained the seeds for the future—blossoming in the present.   We also are called to grow in wisdom and grace, as Jesus did.  He required 30 years to reach maturity and acquire sufficient wisdom.  It may well require us a lifetime to grow, mature and ripen as human beings into true children of God.  

 The feast of the Baptism of Jesus reminds us of our own Baptism, renewing its grace within us, and providing us an opportunity to commit ourselves again to the Christian life, which is essentially, a life of service.   We are not called to save the world, nor to solve all its problems.  Nevertheless, each of us has our own unique call—in our families, in our work, in our world.  We need help from the Spirit of God, within us, to be able to be faithful to that call.  Faithfulness to small, everyday tasks is our way of responding to the problems of our time, and participating in the work of Jesus.   

May God Richly Bless You!


“The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.”  (John 1:33.) 

Leprosy, having afflicted humans for thousands of years, is along-term infection by the bacteria: Mycobacterium leprae. Initially, a person who is infected does not have symptoms and typically remains this way for five to 20 years.  Infected persons may experience weakness, poor eyesight, damage of the nerves, respiratory tract, skin, and lack the ability to feel pain. This last symptom can lead to the loss of parts of a person's extremities from repeated injuries or infection due to unnoticed wounds.  Since the 20thCentury, Leprosy is curable with multidrug therapy (MDT.)  Diagnosis and treatment with MDT are easy and effective, and worldwide, a 45% decline in the disease has occurred since MDT has become widely available.  Canonized in 2009, Fr. Damien is considered the patron saint of leprosy and outcasts.

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